GUEST CURATOR: Jordan Russo
What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Linseed-Oil … for ready CASH.”
Lindseed oil has many uses today, but this advertisement made me wonder how colonists used linseed oil in the eighteenth century. According to the historians at Historic Jamestowne, linseed oil was “used in wood treatments, paint and animal fodder.” Linseed oil had many uses so it is understandable why people would need it back then as well.
“For ready CASH” meant that the customer needed to have money for that item right as they bought it. “In colonial America,” according to David Walbert, “nobody had enough cash. There wasn’t enough cash to go around — not enough to cover the value of all the goods and services that were available to be bought and sold.” The advertisement I examined yesterday included some of the goods the colonists wanted to purchase, such as necklaces, ribbons, and teas.” It also stated that the shopkeeper sold those goods “for CASH only.” Both Jolley Allen and the company selling the linseed oil wanted cash right away for the goods they sold. They did not want to give credit over time to colonists it seems.
ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes
Linseed oil (or flaxseed oil) is a byproduct of flax production, which made it a widely available product in colonial America because farmers grew flax to process and ultimately weave into linen in small-scale production. Flax possessed many advantages. For instance, it “has the greatest tensile strength of any natural fiber,” except for ramie. On the other hand, “its overwhelming disadvantage [was] the amount of labor, skilled and otherwise, required from sowing to harvest.” Furthermore, processing flax was “an extremely labor-intensive process” that involved many steps, as explained in greater detail by Historic Jamestowne. After harvest, the first step was removing the seeds in a process called rippling, which involved putting flax bundles through coarse combs. Jordan has chosen an advertisement that appears rather plain; it belies the amount of labor involved in producing linseed oil before offering it for sale.
I found the placement of this advertisement rather interesting. Except for the colophon, it was the last item that appeared in the final column of the October 10, 1766, issue of the New-London Gazette. The printer devoted more than half of the issue (the first two pages in their entirety, excepting the masthead, and most of the first column on the third page) to reprinting “The EXAMINATION of Doctor Benjamin Franklin, before an August Assembly, relating to the Repeal of the Stamp-Act.” As we saw last week, colonial printers deployed a bit of subterfuge to publish Franklin’s testimony before Parliament.
The Stamp Act intensified many colonists’ desire to become self-sufficient rather than rely on goods, especially textiles, imported from England and elsewhere. Both news items and advertisements promoted domestic manufactures as a means of reducing Parliament’s influence in North American affairs. However, schemes for the mass production of linen in the colonies continued to fall short because, as Michele Mormul explains, “they lacked funding and labor was too expensive.”
The October 10, 1766, issue of the New-London Gazette opened with explicitly political news coverage. The advertisement for linseed oil that concluded the issue may not appear particularly partisan at first glance, but some colonists may have drawn connections between the recent argument with Parliament, calls for nonimportation and domestic manufactures, and linseed oil’s connections to flax cultivation and linen production. Take into consideration the placement of the advertisement relative to the Franklin’s testimony as well. Although they appeared first and last, spatially they were not separated on the broadsheet newspaper when laid flat. In that case, the advertisement in the third column of the final page appeared next to the first column of Franklin’s testimony on the first page. When a reader held the newspaper open to peruse the second and third pages, observers would have seen the first and final pages, with the advertisement for linseed oil leading into the political news.